Why Mutual Aid is Important for Communities with High Crime Rates

Milwaukee, WI – Low income neighborhoods in any city, no matter how large or small, are always used as a scapegoat for a city’s problems. Crimes, such as armed robberies, car theft, drug dealing, are rampant in these areas. It appears the city’s response to solving these problems is to put more money into the police budget. They will charge headlong into these neighborhoods and will not actually prevent crime, but will show up after the deeds have been committed, and they do not succeed in helping these residents, but helping everyone outside of these neighborhoods feel safer because they have successfully locked up more people who lack resources, jobs and funds to make ends meet. Arguably, if residents in low-income neighborhoods had access to more of these resources, crimes would not be committed at such a high rate.

Felonies follow people of color, who make up the populations of these neighborhoods much longer than they do others. Small marijuana offenses can land people in Wisconsin jails, a state that upholds the Truth-in-Sentencing Act, which means offenders will usually have to serve the entire length of their sentence without being eligible for parole. These felonies will stay on record for up to twenty years sometimes, impeding offenders from being able to work and to apply for loans and be able to advance in society.

Too often, people think of mutual aid as charity, something that is given for free or usually for a tax write-off. Mutual aid is truly something that is thought up by a community. It has mostly evolved under periods of peace and prosperity, but has also had a strong resurgence during times of war and calamity. Religion, social institutions and financial as well all work from the same model, gradual extensions from the same mutual aid philosophy. 

Throughout the pandemic, mutual aid saw a more popular outreach in the form of drive up grocery and toiletry dispensaries run by communities around the city. Some added this to the list of help that was extended to the community, and some based their entire philosophy around giving out basic necessities without having to go through any kind of application process. 

“Giving out food that was donated by local grocery stores is something that has helped and we are grateful for. The dream is to really have our own self-sustaining farm so we can grow our own food and have it be tended by us in order to give it out,” says one organizer at a local mutual aid effort.

This is, at its base, the entire idea of mutual aid, simplified and expressed properly. It is, however, not embraced because it was at one point, the vital force of a community and would absolutely crush the idea of the centralized state. The residents of La Loma, Palo Verde, and Bishop in Los Angeles all had their own society. It was made up of Mexican immigrants who created their own economy, policed themselves and grew their own food. Residents built their homes piece by piece and when the Federal Housing Act of 1949 forced all of the residents out of their homes, the idyllic society was destroyed as it was deemed too “communist”. The idea that mutual aid worked was absolutely devastating to a city and shook it to its core. 

Under this present social system, it is individualism that is celebrated over collectivism. All of the bonds and ideas of a union made up of the same inhabitants of the city have been dissolved. There has been a sense of “hustle” implemented – one that tells people that were not born into generational wealth, that they too can be wealthy if they simply work hard and toil under capitalism, pledging their allegiance to it. This is not so, but people still try everyday. 


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